Fox Hunting, Courtyard Theatre

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by guest critic Amy Toledano

A fox runs into the road and forces the driver coming towards it to swerve and almost crash. Is it the fox’s fault if the person dies, or does it matter if the driver runs the fox over to save themselves? Which life is worth more? And if you grow up in South London should you be punished for carrying a knife to protect yourself? Or if you stab someone as self-defense is it still a crime? This complex and delicate issue is handled beautifully in David Alade’s Fox Hunting.

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Why Is the Sky Blue?, Southwark Playhouse

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by guest critic Amy Toledano

Why is the sky blue? What is there to do in Argentina? Why is the sea green? How regularly are young people in the UK and around the world watching pornography? And –  more importantly – what affect is it having on their sexual and mental development? These are just some of the questions raised in Abbey Wright’s brand new Why is the Sky Blue?

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Wild Life FM, Unicorn Theatre

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by guest critic Kudzanayi Chiwawa

Kim Noble, Pol Heyvaert, Jakob Ampe and the nine, young singer/songwriters they worked with describe this piece as part gig and part play, and it’s exactly that. The show unfolds as if in a radio station’s live broadcast, with a clearly confident cast carrying you through the unusual format, allowing the audience to simply enjoy it.

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All the Little Lights, Arcola Theatre

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by guest critic Gregory Forrest

Hilarious and heart-breaking in equal measure, Jane Upton’s work is a darkly realistic shock to the system. Nominated for Best Play at the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Awards 2017 and joint winner of the 2016 George Devine Award, All the Little Lights is an astonishing achievement.

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Killology, Royal Court

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I have a fairly robust constitution and am not particularly squeamish, but Gary Owen’s latest had me trying not to be sick on Meg Vaughan’s bag on my right, or the empty seats to my left and in front of me. They were empty because some people walked out in the first half, and others didn’t return after the interval. That’s not to say Killology isn’t brilliant – it absolutely is. But the brutal story about fractured father/son relationships, toxic masculinity and revenge is bloody hard to watch.

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Day One at Buzzcut Festival

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Actually, it’s the second day of the live art festival at the Pearce Institute in Glasgow but due to work, I couldn’t make the opening day. So in order to save travel time, I lost by Megabus Gold virginity and took the overnight sleeper coach. Unceremoniously dumped in Buchanan bus station at 6:30 am after an intermittent night’s sleep, I chugged a coffee (after being laughed at for attempting to order a flat white) in the station caf before heading to my digs, then navigating an unfamiliar city’s public transport across town to the Pearce Institute.

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Love, Lies and Taxidermy and Scorch, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

First loves: awkward, hormonal milestones of young adulthood that make you feel like you’re on top of the world in a bubble that’s just the two of you. That is, unless you’re a trans or gender fluid teen who is still exploring gender identity, or someone with extensive family problems. But issues like these, when married with a youthful story of falling in love, make for some powerful and moving theatre.

Love, Lies and Taxidermy compares falling in love for the first time to living in a film. With narration incorporating stage directions, short scenes reminiscent of quick cuts and a wonderfully ridiculous conclusion, the play feels like a teen romcom, but has enough substance to ensure it isn’t total frivolity. It’s fluffy, sweet and addresses how social class can effect young love.

Set in Myrthyr Tydfil where all road lead to Tesco, Ash and Valentine meet at hospital when they’re both waiting to see if they qualify for paid medical trials. Ash’s dad is on the verge of bankruptcy, and Val’s parents are separated so he wants to send them on a cruise in hope they will fall in love again. The tentatively begin dating, but life has a way of interfering with their time together. Ash has other ideas to earn some quick cash courtesy of an aspiring filmmaker college mate, but devoted Val vehemently opposes them. Cue a mad dash adventure to rescue Ash from her poor choices and live happily ever after.

There are a few lose ends in the narrative that get forgotten in favour of the “boy rescues girl” plot line, like Val’s quest for money for his parents. They could easily be trimmed to get to the point faster, or developed further to make a more fully-formed story.

The cast of three display remarkable energy as they play all the roles. Remy Beasley and Andy Rush are Ash and Val, the young couple who clearly fancy the pants off each other. Rush, though the hero, goes against the stereotypical popular lad who wins the girl through violence and strength. Awkward and geeky, his devotion to the bold and brassy Beasley is utterly adorable. Beasley’s confidence also goes against the romcom trope; she most definitely does not want to be rescued even though she doesn’t want to make the money in the way she has chosen.

The ending, however unrealistic, charms and delights. Though there is no set to portray the described splendour, the text more than makes up for its absence. The intimacy of the Roundabout suits this play well, though a larger venue would give more scope for design.

Scorch takes a different tone from Love, Lies and Taxidermy, though it also has a generous helping of youthful optimism about love. Kez, a bio-girl who dresses as a boy when not at school Orr home, has met Jules online and is smitten despite the “cool dude” exterior. This story has a darker outcome what with the complexities of gender identity and disclosure as it reinterprets the classic coming-of-age tale.

Kez is perky, accepting and generally at peace with her discomfort in a female body. Amy McAllister embodies the role with verve and charisma, making the audience sympathetic to consequences that arise from not telling Jules that she has a female, strap-on wearing body. The character’s good intentions are sweet, but not enough to save her.

Kez grows up quickly over the course of the story, and the Internet gives her a wealth of information to help her explore her gender identity and legal options. Her social media accounts facilitate meeting girls, and it’s all too easy to set up alternative profiles that portray her as a boy. It also helps her find a local support group, so the sword that is growing up in the digital age is well and truly double-sided.

This is a well-formed script with several layers. Whilst it is a powerful piece of storytelling as a solo performance, introducing additional actors to take on other roles would add depth to Kez’s experiences. McAllister uses the space well, though the opportunity to fully engage with the audience is missed.

Both productions are generally excellent examples of storytelling. The differing perspectives on teenage love are delightfully nostalgic and provocative without becoming twee or trite. The Roundabout enhances their intimacy, but limits scope for design and staging. These two plays would be served just as well, if not better, in a larger space that enables them to extend their production values.

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